Award-Winning Jazz Guitarist Heads Our Way

How often do jazz musicians point to the Beatles as their inspiration? 

It may be evidence of their broad interest in music, and their versatility. That’s the case with Vancouver jazz guitarist Bill Coon.

“Let it Be is the first pop record I ever owned, and that’s when my interest started in pop music,’ he says. “Aside from the Beatles — Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Rory Gallagher were my inspirations.”

Coon has been playing jazz guitar since the 1970s, and racked up a Juno nomination and other awards since then.

On January 26, Coon, his quartet, and fellow jazz guitarist Oliver Gannon will be performing at the Yukon Arts Centre.

During the past few decades, the Etobicoke native has released numerous albums, and collaborated with many musicians. Coon received a Juno nomination for his collaboration with pianist Denzel Sinclaire on I Found Love.

“‘It was pretty cool to be nominated,” he says. “We lost to Joni Mitchell’s song with a 70 piece orchestra, so I can live with that.”

He was awarded Best Guitarist of the Year in 2009 at the National Jazz Awards.

Despite his success, Coon’s beginnings were humble.

“The first gig I can remember doing was at a Mexican restaurant,” Coon recalls. “I got paid $30, and thought getting paid to perform music was pretty great. Since then I was hooked.”

The guitar is not the first instrument that comes to mind when thinking of jazz. But Coon has a different outlook.

“I love the guitar and the possibilities, the way it can function both as a horn and a piano,” he says.

Understanding that reinvention and versatility are keys to his success, Coon recently teamed up with Canadian hip-hop artist k-os.

“(Fellow guitarist) Russ Klein was doing some work with k-os and asked if I could do some string arrangements,” Coon says. “This collaboration has lasted for many years.”

Now as a veteran, what is Coons advice to fellow musicians?

“To learn music, you need to listen to it,” he says. “It is a language, and you need to become familiar with its vocabulary and repertoire before you can really express yourself through the music. It is important to keep your mind way open and focus on the music you love. Find like-minded individuals to play with, work really hard, and above all have fun with it.”

Coon has been to the Yukon many times, and played a few shows in Whitehorse with the late Vancouver jazz musician Ross Taggart.

“I speak for many, many musicians and fans when I say I miss Ross tremendously,” he says. “The last album I made with Ross was Scudder’s Cove, and it happens to be my favourite.’

Coon and his quartet, along with Oliver Gannon, will perform at the Yukon Arts Centre on Jan. 26. For more information, go to for more information.

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